Texas Tech University

Vice Provost Shares Thoughts on Online Learning

by Lucy Worley

January 30, 2017

Dr. Melanie Hart

Dr. Melanie Hart

Dr. Melanie Hart

Dr. Melanie Hart

Texas Tech University Independent School District (TTUISD) is leading the way in online education. Recently ranked third in the nation for best online high schools by Value Colleges and best in Texas by Best College Reviews, TTUISD certainly has a lot to offer. However, amongst the rising trend of online education, there is a fair share of curiosity and even skepticism as to how it compares to a brick and mortar setting.

Dr. Melanie Hart is the vice provost of eLearning at Texas Tech University, overseeing TTUISD along with other online and distance programs offered through the university. With both her bachelor's and master's degrees from Texas Tech University and her doctorate from Auburn University, Dr. Hart is a veteran in the field of education. From a public school math teacher to her now 14th year working at Texas Tech, Dr. Hart's passion for education is evident.

As Dr. Hart shared her thoughts on the rising trend of online learning, a theme seemed to come up repeatedly.

“A student is not ‘alone' when they opt to learn through an online school,” Dr. Hart said. “In the TTUISD program, teachers are often times even more available than what you might find in a public school.”

Dr. Hart made it clear that the online learning community is that - a community. When a student is dedicated to the process of learning and is willing to put in effort, they find a rewarding experience.

Dr. Hart stated that while online learning will never replace learning in a brick and mortar environment, it does carry unique opportunities and value of its own.

“I know many teachers that refuse to teach online. There is a misplaced belief that the more you lecture and talk, the more students understand. In reality, whether teachers are teaching online or face-to-face, studies indicate that short and to-the-point presentations of five to seven minutes are the best ways for learners to absorb information. After that, students should be encouraged to go reinforce that information through discussion or application, with a follow up after that point to check for retention.”

If this model of learning is most effective for the majority of people, it suggests that the quality of an education should be primarily measured by how teachers deliver information and how well students retain it, not where the learning takes place.

In this regard, online learning presents opportunities for better learning. With the flexibility and responsibility that comes with an online curriculum, students often take more ownership and truly seek to absorb information in a meaningful way.

While online learning might not be for everyone, its goal is to make an education possible for anyone.

“Students who entertain the idea of enrolling in an online school because they think it will be ‘easy', or those who have poor time management skills would probably not excel in a program like TTUISD,” said Dr. Hart. With that being said, she emphasized that not only can most students excel, they do.

Over the decades that TTUISD has been serving students, the curriculum has created learning opportunities for students who needed to work at faster or slower paces, children in military families, missionary families, homeschool families, young professional actors and athletes, and countless others.

These student successes highlight the TTUISD mission of promoting student success – anytime, anywhere – utilizing rigorous and reputable curriculum, excellent instruction, quality customer service, and innovative technologies.

“Once people move past the idea that just because a class is online, it is not somehow a lesser experience, a whole set of opportunities will present themselves for students to go deeper,” said Dr. Hart.

In an article released from CNN in 2012, there was an estimated quarter-million kindergarten through 12th grade students enrolled in full-time online schools. That number has only continued to climb.

According to Dr. Hart, there is a reason those numbers keep climbing. “The brain can absorb as much as the bottom can stand,” Dr. Hart states. Meaning, the longer students have to sit in a classroom, the less their brains can absorb. This is especially true for young students. More and more families are discovering this to be true and making the change to online school.

With TTUISD as a forerunner in this rising trend, the possibilities and freedom given to students through the TTUISD program are only just beginning.